On January 30th, designer, educator, and author Ian Noble passed away. Ian was my professor during my MA at the London College of Printing and I was deeply saddened by the news. I first met Ian back in the fall of 2001, during the Declarations conference in Montreal. I participated in the We Interrupt the Programme workshop that he and Russel Bestley were leading, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that my experiences over the course of that week changed my life. It carved the path for both my career as a graphic designer and my activism as an engaged, politicised, individual.
At the time, I remember clearly being impressed by Ian’s presence and generosity, his no-bullshit attitude, his acerbic humour. I remember smoking cigarettes with him and Sandy Kaltenborn in the courtyard of the VA building, his AK-47 t-shirt, and his contagious love of punk rock. Equally contagious was his deeply held passion for graphic design, as theory and practice, from which I learned to understand design as a language, one with an important social responsibility.
I next met Ian several years later, at a decisive moment in my life. It was December of 2003, my life and studies in the Netherlands were falling apart, and I visited London to see if it might be a better place for me. I met with Ian and Russ, informally (I remember finding deep comfort in the big hug Ian greeted me with), and asked if it would still be possible to apply for the MA at LCP (it was far past the official deadline). Not only did they heartily encourage me, but they accepted me into the program without the need for a formal application or portfolio. Ian mentioned he had been following my work since we last met, and that he knew what I was capable of. To have such an important figure in the graphic design world tell me he was actually following my work, and to thus brush aside all institutional bureaucracy in to order accept me at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, was a gift beyond words. It is a testament to Ian’s boundless generosity, and it changed my life yet again.
During the span of the course, things got a bit tumultuous. The program, and school, was in a transitional phase, and I believe it suffered because of it. Ian also fell sick and was away from our cohort in the end. He was greatly missed by us students. Partly due to his absence, I challenged the institution as a student representative, and I challenged our tutors, to provide us with more (access to studios and workshops, teaching time, etc.). I wrote a vociferous letter to the dean, and met on several occasions with the administration to argue for what I believed were our rights as students. The ironic thing is, I probably wouldn’t have had the balls to step up like this if I had not learned from Ian the confidence of sticking to my convictions, and furthermore, how to communicate them effectively.
I’m reminded of a brief meeting I had with Ian during our first brief. My project was a book-work, a typographic deconstruction of the rhetorical devices of George Bush Jr.’s speech after September 11th. It ended with a sequential illustration of the towers crumbling, but I was hesitant to include it. I asked Ian for his opinion, and though I don’t remember his exact words, his response amounted to a clear and direct, “Do you believe it? If so, of course you should include it. What the Hell are you afraid of?” Speak truth to power, always, and as clearly as possible. I haven’t looked back since that meeting.
So thank you Ian, for everything.
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